Male Democratic senators join push for new harassment rules in Congress

- April 18, 2018

The men of the Senate Democratic Caucus are preparing to publicly join every female senator in both parties in calling for a vote on rewriting Capitol Hill’s workplace harassment rules — without support from a single Republican male.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) organized the planned appeal to the chamber’s leaders in both parties for a floor debate on modernizing the Hill’s misconduct policy in solidarity with a recent push by all 22 female senators, according to a Democratic source who insisted on anonymity to talk about the effort. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the chief GOP co-author of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) strict harassment overhaul bill, was originally courted to sign on to the Democratic men’s letter but has declined, the source said.

Asked earlier Wednesday whether he would join Democratic men on the letter pushing for a harassment vote, Cruz called the harassment legislation “the right thing to do.”

“We should have passed it weeks ago, and so anything I can do to encourage my colleagues — Republican or Democrat — to take it up on the floor of the Senate, I’m supportive of doing,” Cruz said in an interview.

The male Democrats’ letter is addressed to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and is cosigned by 31 male Democratic senators.

Schumer was the sole male Democrat to not sign on, as a leader on the receiving end, but he has long supported taking up the harassment legislation that the House passed on a bipartisan basis in February.

“If we fail to act immediately to address this systemic problem in our own workplace, we will lose all credibility in the eyes of the American public regarding our capacity to protect victims of sexual harassment or discrimination in any setting,” the male Democrats’ letter states, according to a copy obtained by POLITICO.

The letter also aligns with all 22 female senators in expressing “disappointment” that the Senate has failed to follow the House in taking up workplace misconduct legislation.

The House-passed harassment bill, the product of extensive bipartisan talks in that chamber, would require lawmakers to personally pay the costs of harassment or discrimination claims filed by employees that stem from their behavior, among other reforms. The legislation stemmed from a wave of sexual misconduct scandals that gripped Congress last fall, forcing the resignation or retirement of a half-dozen lawmakers in both parties.

At the same time as it passed that legislation, which requires Senate action and President Donald Trump’s signature to become law, the House also passed a separate, immediately executed change to its own internal rules that creates an Office of Employee Advocacy to represent the interests of workplace misconduct victims, among other changes.

Senate negotiators in both parties had hoped to attach Hill harassment legislation to last month’s $1.3 trillion government spending deal. But sources said those talks ran aground amid resistance from some in the Senate to force lawmakers to pay out of pocket for discrimination settlements stemming from their behavior, as well as harassment claims.

House Republicans and Democrats have maintained support for their chamber’s more expansive lawmaker-liability language, while Senate Democrats have said they would raise no objection. A McConnell spokesman said in response to the female senators’ appeal last month that the majority leader “supports members being personally, financially liable for sexual misconduct in which they have engaged.”

A McConnell spokesman said Wednesday night that Senate negotiators in both parties were continuing to work on harassment legislation.

A spokesman for Merkley declined to comment on the status of the male Democrats’ letter, which is expected to be released on Thursday.


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